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Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  329 ratings  ·  28 reviews
Evil threatens reason. It challenges our hope that things make sense. For 18th-century Europeans, the Lisbon earthquake was manifest evil. Now we view evil as a matter of human cruelty, Auschwitz as its extreme incarnation.

Examining our understanding of evil from the Inquisition to contemporary terrorism, Neiman explores who we've become in the three centuries
Paperback, 384 pages
Published March 2004 by Princeton University Press (first published 2002)
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The Lifespan of Moral Evil

This is a long and complex book, possibly longer and more complex than it needs to be in order to establish its main thesis, namely that “The problem of evil is the guiding force of modern thought.” More specifically, “The sharp distinction between natural and moral evil that now seems self-evident was born around the Lisbon earthquake [of 1755] and nourished by Rousseau. Tracing the history of that distinction, and the ways in which the problems refused to stay separate, i
Sep 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Este livro é muito bom! Merece os prémios que conquistou, sem dúvida!
Em primeiro lugar, está escrito numa linguagem que não é hermética nem encriptada. O livro flui muito bem e confronta-nos com questões éticas, religiosas e filosóficas importantes.

De Leibniz a Arendt, passando por Kant, Hegel, Voltaire, Marx e Engles, Sade, Rousseau, Nietzsche, Dostoievski, Freud (entre outros) o livro aborda de uma maneira didáctica, honesta e sem ferir quaisquer susceptibilidades o problema
Aug 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
The flaws of this book appear in reverse, with the errors of the ending chapter making me question the arguments of the start. At the center of Neiman’s argument is the metaphors related to the Lisbon earthquake of 1775 and Auschwitz; both are used as singular events that altered the basic way philosophy can talk about moral and natural evils. Particularly, the author focuses on the changing relationship between contingency and moral action, and how those two events changed the way people approa ...more
Erik Graff
May 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: philosophy
Before going ahead to criticize, I want to make it clear that this is an important, well-written book, accessible to ordinary readers. As Neiman points out in her preface, she entered the study of philosophy to grapple with the big questions of the meaning of life or, as Kant put it: What can I know? What must I do? What may I believe? She found that modern philosophy as taught in the States is mostly epistemology and the analysis of propositions, was increasingly frustrated, and resolved to bri ...more
Lisa Louie
Aug 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
No summary or reflection I write will do this book the justice it deserves. When I picked up this book, I hoped to delve into multiple frameworks in which “evil” is defined and, if I was lucky, to read further into theodicy, the classical problem of evil in the philosophy of religion. I was not disappointed. Neiman makes the case that, on some level, the whole of philosophy has been an attempt to explain why there is evil at all. She patiently surveys the history of philosophy, organizing school ...more
Jun 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
Hoo-boy. Some summer read. At times my eyes glazed, but... but! Though I've learned the hard way that I'm no philosopher (it's way too logic-driven, for one, and I'm not), I seem endlessly fascinated with philosophy because, quite simply, I like to mull a lot. Kind of like cider.

Yes, this is all about philosopher/knights grappling none-too-successfully with the greatest dragon of them all, evil, but I almost felt like evil took a back seat to the big white dragon in the room. Yep. Go
James Murphy
Aug 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Susan Neiman writes that her purpose is to trace changes in Western perceptions of evil from the 18th century through the 20th. The 2 watersheds in her analysis are the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 and Auschwitz in our time. What was an evil force once is no longer, and what isn't today may become evil in time. Her history of modern philosophy can be boiled down to the difference between the natural evil of an earthquake caused by God and the moral evil of mid-20th century genocide caused by ...more
Brilliant, although this is a dense book, in the sense of requiring slow and careful reading, from me at least. I often had to stop, reread a sentence or paragraph, and sit for a few minutes thinking about its message - it also caused me to look up more words than any book I've read in decades, possibly because I'm not well-read at all in philosophy beyond one freshman philosophy course in a junior college over 30 years ago.
Neiman presents perspectives on evil from one philosopher after, a
Oct 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
If you are looking for a history of philosophy that is not a snooze-fest, this is your book.
David Gross
Nov 27, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ethics, non-fiction
This book is something like a conversation between philosophers taking place over three hundred years on the topic of evil. I've started to visualize this conversation, as Neiman reports it, as though it were a Facebook-like discussion, here:
Oct 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
Neiman’s Evil in Modern Thought offers a compelling reexamination of the rise of modern philosophy, arguing that traditional historical accounts that focus on the epistemological turn do not explain the material that they narrate. It is true but uninteresting, Neiman thinks, to describe the changing content of philosophical systems, because such expository accounts “lack a compelling motive.” The engine behind the turmoil in early modern to modern periods, Neiman thinks, is the problem of evil, ...more
Oct 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I admit from the outset that I cannot possibly do this book justice in a review. I can at best offer a stream of consciousness review of its brilliance in weaving together centuries of philosophical thought and the evolution of the question of evil.
This book explores centuries of philosophical thought, starting with Bayle and Liebniz, and going through Rousseau, Pope, Kant, Goethe, Nietzsche, Hegel, Marx, Foucault, Voltaire, Descartes, Hume, De Sade, Schopenhauer, Arendt, Adorno, Horkheim
Yuni Amir
Jun 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
[DNF] I read half through the book. Suffice to say, the second half is harder to grasp the idea. First half resonates better with what was I looking for. I will give it another try in the future for the second half.
Jan 27, 2015 rated it really liked it

This highly readable survey of the past three hundred years of Western philosophy explores how our attempts to explain evil events - both those inflicted upon us by nature (e.g., earthquakes), and those generated by our own devices and thus self-inflicted (e.g., terrorist attacks) - have evolved over time. Even more importantly, it seeks to reveal what our modern interpretation of such events says about us collectively at th
Jack Wolfe
Sep 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Neiman's history is "Alternative" because unlike what seems to be the vast majority of contemporary and 20th century philosophers (if my stint running philosophy books at Half-Price Books is any indication), she is interested in things that actually matter, like the classic question of how unspeakable atrocity can occur in a seemingly reasonable world. WHOOPS. I mis-spoke, as a central tenet of Neiman's book is how even philosophers who seemed unconcerned with the "problem of evil" have been for ...more
Jul 12, 2011 rated it it was ok
I'm not really very kind to history of philosophy books. While I enjoy a good history, philosophy for me is more a discussion of ideas and I'm not really interested in out-dated or factually wrong ideas.

Suffice to say this book is mostly a history of the idea in Western European philosophy. I'm much more interested in reasonable ideas, and the idea that natural disasters are an act of god/punishment for evil just didn't fly well for me. The book moved quickly from that medieval idea
Jul 18, 2011 rated it liked it
A good read for philosophically-minded atheists interested in how philosophers since the Enlightenment have dealt with the "problem of evil" outside of a purely theological framework (though it should be stressed this is not an atheist book). Neiman is at least convincing that it is, and has been treated historically, as a serious subject for contemplation beyond a mere club to bash theists with. Even if theodicy is rejected as ultimately a failure, there still remains the secular concept of "Th ...more
Maurizio Manco
"Le anime possono uscire rafforzate da un male che le riconosce. Il male che cerca di negare alle proprie vittime le condizioni necessarie ad avere un'anima, non può in alcun modo riconoscerle. Non possiamo essere che grati a quei pochi che hanno trovato la forza per resistere a un simile attacco alla loro umanità. Non possiamo aspettarci da loro niente più che il mistero della libertà umana." (p. 253)

"Nel male contemporaneo le intenzioni individuali raramente corrispondono alla port
Curby Graham
Apr 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read this for a master's level course on the problem of evil.

Neiman's work is a very thorough overview of how the problem of evil developed from the time of the Lisbon disaster forward. I found her notion that Nietzsche's philosophy could be described as slave-morality for the modern skeptical set.

Neiman is not a Christian but I did find it odd she didn't interact with modern thinkers like Plantinga on this subject.

Worth having in your library if you are interested in the problem of evil.
Jesse Maurais
Jan 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, history
Is there an underlying logic to the world or is it all random? The limitations of our logic are made painfully obvious in its occasional clashes with reality. It seems more like there's icebergs of reason that float freely in a greater chaotic ocean, occasionally making collisions with one another. Ice will melt under then heat of the sun but nor will the best reasons sustain under prolonged periods of doubt. And all for the best too; it's the icebergs that sink our vessels.
Oct 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
An alternative history of philosophy it says on the cover. And it is. Very nicely done. Not enough, I think, on Leibniz who has said everything that needs to be said on theodicy. But I might be biased.
May 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
4.5 out of 5 stars.
Jul 14, 2008 marked it as to-read
a "i couldn't get into that book" book
Clay Kallam
Aug 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
Philosophy doesn’t so much “solve” intractable problems as just leave them behind. For example, the issue of what universals really refer to (what qualifies as a table, say, or a horse) was paramount in the Middle Ages, but has been pretty much ignored ever since, even though no satisfying definition has been developed.

A much more crucial issue – especially given the rise of terrorism and the greater opportunities for mass murder – is the nature of evil. Though Susan Neiman doesn’t d
Valenfore Alestreneon
Dec 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A rather good exploration and demystification of the "problem of evil" and why "evil" doesn't truly exist.
Wu Shih
Jul 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
La storia della filosofia moderna riletta come risposta alla domanda: perchè esiste il male?
Andy Huber
Sep 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing


There is no Sarkasm :d

She is beautifull :*

I was playing with the thought about to study philosophy, than
i read the book, and all was fine :d

I didnt go there LOL

She is perfekt, who she did in explaining and writing
about what philophs do. And a bit of history and a bit ...more
rated it it was amazing
Jun 30, 2016
rated it liked it
Nov 06, 2019
Katie Gill
rated it did not like it
Nov 29, 2017
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